It shouldn’t matter if we can ever truly know if lobsters feel pain

Switzerland recently banned the boiling of live lobsters. However, the debate still rages: do they actually feel pain? We broadly think that animals closely related to us can. This extends to mammals, and to a lesser extent birds. But the issue is murkier with the rest of the animal kingdom. It begs the question of when and in what species did pain evolve? Or, if it evolved multiple times, is there more than one lineage that contain animals which experience something like pain?

I think that there is something it is like to be a lobster. Perhaps I am taking it as an article of faith. Although I would counter that by saying that denial cannot be a more accurate hypothesis than mine. Neither hypothesis can ever be empirically known. As Thomas Nagel (who I would imagine isn’t too revered around these parts) writes in What Is It Like To Be A Bat:

Our own experience provides the basic material for our imagination, whose range is therefore limited. It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic. In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.

If anyone is inclined to deny that we can believe in the existence of facts like this whose exact nature we cannot possibly conceive, he should reflect that in contemplating the bats we are in much the same position that intelligent bats or Martians would occupy if they tried to form a conception of what it was like to be us. The structure of their own minds might make it impossible for them to succeed, but we know they would be wrong to conclude that there is not anything precise that it is like to be us: that only certain general types of mental state could be ascribed to us (perhaps perception and appetite would be concepts common to us both; perhaps not). We know they would be wrong to draw such a skeptical conclusion because we know what it is like to be us.

Bats are one thing – they, like we, are mammals. For contemporary organisms in the arthropod phylum, we are even further away from having a common ancestor, probably by around 500-600 million years. For lobsters in particular, if there is something it is like to be one, there are even less means of conceptualizing what those experiences are like than there are for bats. One idea was put forth by Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka. They theorize that primordial inner states were akin to being suffused in white noise:

The unavoidable consequence of all the sensations that result from the incessant and persistent neural stimulation of the animal’s external and internal sensors is a global by-product of neural activity we call “overall sensation.” We suggest, by way of metaphor, that it is a kind of “white-noise sensation”—a weak, completely functionless, and meaningless side-effect of an interconnected sensory-motor system, which is dynamically processing electrical and chemical signals triggered by sensors, communicated to effectors, sent back to sensors again, and so on.

They stress that this “white noise” is initially functionless, but could be the “raw material for the first types of experiencing.” This is, of course, imperfect, as white noise contains both visual and auditory components, neither of which were available to early life in the time period they discuss. But one can theorize what attempted predations and other injuries produced in these nascent inner states – perhaps it is akin to a jolt of electricity that disturbs the relatively static background. Current species of lobsters have evolved from these ancient experiencers for as long as we have temporally. Neural networks are continually refined and integrated, and perhaps they experience something more than the “white noise” of their ancestors.

Just as I think there is something it is like to be a lobster, I also believe they experience their own form of pain. An either/or conception of nonhuman pain is possibly inaccurate, but I’m going to take it as a given: either they do or don’t experience pain. As I wrote in an earlier blog, every living organism – sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious – is an entity comprised of molecules that resist entropy. The resistance of entropy doesn’t entail that pain is felt by every biological entity, especially if we attempt to fit the concept of pain into parameters defined by human experience. While we may hypothesize correlates given that we are evolutionarily related to every organism, it’s truly something we can never “know.” Indeed, one can never “know” the person sitting next to them experiences pain – the only pain internally experienced is one’s own.

Most animals experience nociception, a recognition of tissue damage, that sometimes includes reflexive actions. This is not the same thing as pain, but they are related. Pain can be described as nociception combined with an inner state, such that the experiencer feels stress that is particular to that organism’s genetic and neurological design. One could also go further and attempt to connect nociception and pain to suffering, but I’m content to stop at pain.

Again, granted my belief that there is something it is like to be a lobster, is there a noetic distinction between its internal state when it’s hanging out in its natural habitat, as opposed to being subjected to nociception, like being placed in boiling water? If one accepts that lobsters have some kind of inner life, I don’t see how the answer can be anything but yes, since different environmental stimuli leads to different behaviors that can readily be observed. I don’t think it’s too wild to say one state is probably “better” for the lobster than the other and, moreover, that they have an internal preference that is influenced by pain.

The amount of research that’s been performed to answer the question of pain, and whether or not different animals experience it is kind of mystifying to me (Descartes is an eminently worthy scapegoat). While human observations can lead to evidence-based conjecture, we can never truly know. It seems like a waste of time, and pretty cruel when experimentation involves harming animals. However, research that provides evidence for pain may lead to a large-scale shift in attitude. For example, Victoria Braithwaite’s research on fish entails cruelty, which is something I don’t really care for, but could lead to less overall suffering by changing cultural attitudes. Maybe. I’m a bit skeptical. On a personal note, when I purchased Braithwaite’s book, Do Fish Feel Pain?, the person who checked me out had a good laugh at the mere idea. So there’s probably a ways to go.

Some people couldn’t care less whether nonhuman animals feel pain, but some may. For the latter group, I don’t get why one wouldn’t err on the side of caution and do what they can to mitigate causing potential pain to another organism they’re utilizing (as distinct from causing pain as a byproduct of a conflict with another organism). If it is true they do not feel pain, then the efforts to lessen pain don’t matter. But since we’ll never know, and there’s a nonzero chance that they DO experience pain that is specific to each species, maybe we should try to stop being assholes. For lobsters and other aquatic organisms whose populations are continuing to be decimated by overfishing and climate change, the least we can do is give them relatively painless deaths in the service of feeding our insatiability.

Aziz Ansari and the plight of Good Men

The striking thing about the Aziz Ansari situation is how familiar it feels. If the story, as relayed by his accuser were to have extended over a period of a few days, it could very well have been an episode of Master of None – a meet-cute centered on a shared interest in photography leads to several dates, which include the main character clumsily trying to get laid. I’ve little doubt Ansari would’ve treated it with the nuance fans of the show, of which I am one, have been accustomed to.

Of course, this fictionalized version would include the woman, you know, actually wanting it, despite initial misgivings. This basic narrative can be found in any number of examples from the entertainment industry in the last 30 years. Women are prizes to be won by plucky male protagonists. But in the specific real-world example referenced above, it’s pretty obvious the woman didn’t actually want it, and was worn down by persistent and coercive attempts by Ansari.

That Ansari is a powerful multi-millionaire is almost, though not entirely, besides the point. This situation, a first date between a man and a woman who don’t really know each other has to be more applicable to women than Harvey Weinstein-esque situations. Anecdotally, I know far more women that have experienced the latter than the former. Within the context of the perils of dating, it’s both ironic and fucked up that Louis CK so adequately summed it up:

A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane and ill-advised, and the whole species’ existence counts on them doing it. I don’t know how they…how do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.

It’s a harrowing and, despite the source, completely valid thought that I’m not sure I considered or understood until I was in my 30’s, married, and blessedly done with dating. To me, dating was mostly horrible, largely because I didn’t particularly like myself, and was a bit socially awkward. Any reticence on the part of someone I was interested in entailed an immediate cessation of efforts, followed by varying degrees of pitiful self-loathing.

I can’t imagine doing anything like Ansari did and not coming away with the thought that, no, this person is not into me. I would be mortified. But apparently he wasn’t able to comprehend that a woman could possibly not want a handsome, culturally relevant, “woke” multi-millionaire. But again, this type of situation goes beyond the numerically privileged and powerful few and extends across class lines in terms of cishet female/male dating.

(The vast majority of people who read this have not and will never meet me. You are right to consider that perhaps I’m not being completely forthright in the broad description of my personal experiences and may want to extend that line of thinking to any asshole like myself who moralizes on the internet. I know I do. On a related note, I’ve wrestled with writing about #metoo and its adjacent topics for a while now. If you think the last thing anyone needs is another cishet male meditating on it, that’s perfectly understandable and I’m aware this is a valid criticism.)


Men are scared. “How,” they wonder, “can I navigate this changing landscape? Everything I say can be put under a microscope – not all men are serial harassing rapists!” they whine. I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re interacting with a woman, ask yourself if what you’re going to say might be interpreted as something that may make the recipient uncomfortable. If the answer is yes, don’t say it. Even if the answer is no, maybe still don’t say it. That flirting is now fraught with more peril than in the past should be the least of anyone’s concerns within the overarching discussion of contemporary and historical gender violence. If anything, it should make one do a little self-introspection and consider how they approach those they are sexually interested in.

Good Men are accustomed to being granted the right to be judged on their own actions. A priori judgment is unconscionable. Such Good Men don’t do such things – after all, we live in a post-race, post-gender meritocracy where everyone should be, and generally is, judged on the basis of their character and actions. Perhaps that hasn’t always been the case, but surely in 2018, we have arrived. After all, there’s been a black president and a woman won the popular vote, despite not winning. Why should the Good Men have to answer for the behavior of Bad Men?

In all seriousness, I can’t imagine a group of people (cishet males) less deserving of a privilege so long denied to other groups, especially given the disproportionate amount of violence and destruction they’ve wrought over the past few millennia. When they perceive they are not getting the benefit of the doubt, or *gasp* persecuted, they lash out and cry “not all men!”

It’s here that I leave “they” as a pronoun” and turn it into “we.” I identify more with a man wrongfully accused than a woman being raped/assaulted/harassed. This is an extreme privilege: at no point in my life have I ever been concerned with being the victim of rape/assault/harassment. And this process of identification is where many stop in their stunted quasi-analysis. I know of no evidence to back this up, but I think most (certainly not all) cishet men think along these lines – we’re just not concerned with being victims.

Take, for example, TJ Miller, a shitty comedy person and even shittier human. He is alleged to have raped a former girlfriend, something he vehemently denies. We will never know for certain whether or not Miller did what he’s accused of. We weren’t there. Due to this, Good Men will claim to be agnostic to what actually occurred. Unless there’s a conviction, the only supposedly objective way of knowing for sure, there’s no reason to ruin this man’s life with slanderous accusations. Hell, this could happen to any one of us!

These Good Men are deserving of scorn for not using an essential tool, one of our few saving graces as a species – empathy. They are only able to put themselves in the shoes of those they identify with. They think of how fucked up their life would be if they were falsely accused. This is easy to do. However, they are unable or unwilling to extend that consideration to those they have a hard time identifying with. Any reason for doubt will immediately seized upon. Moreover, they are able to creatively ascribe any number of nefarious motivations to reporters of rape/assault/harassment, in an exercise that can roughly be described as an inverted type of empathy.

Perhaps it’s not that simple (though I think it generally is). One could suppose that a man may have an adequate amount of empathy, but isn’t persuaded that patriarchy or rampant rape/assault/harassment is a huge issue or just isn’t pervasive enough to be a big deal. If this is the case, the gap is intellectual and not necessarily empathetic. They could be presented with statistics, but unable or uncaring to sufficiently comprehend the methodology and results. Of course, it doesn’t have to be any one particular thing. Lack of empathy and dismissal of research are mere strands in a larger web of ignorance, myopia and selfishness.


Shitty men are finally getting a small bit of reckoning. Honestly, it’s pretty benign. Dave Chappelle accused Louis CK’s victims of taking “everything from him,” which is fucking nonsense. Sure it might be hard for him to work right now, but none of his wealth, possessions or ability to maintain a privileged lifestyle was “taken.” He’ll probably be back in a few years with a triumphant return to Netflix.

Ansari will probably get to do a third Season of Master of None, though he may want to wait a few dozen news cycles for his story to get buried under the unending avalanche of bullshit that is our culture. His situation has enough of a grey area that it likely won’t affect him too much. A Google search will show just how polarizing it’s been across various media outlets, blogs and social media. He’ll be back sooner or later, none the worse for wear.

If you’re consuming the various stories and thinkpieces related to #metoo, and your first instinct, how this will affect you, is followed by hand-wringing over potentially innocent male victims and fear of interacting with females within a new and scary social landscape, you suck. Stop being a fucking child. Do better.

Revolutionary Left Radio and anticapitalist sectarianism

I love the Revolutionary Left Radio podcast, whose subject matter is what the name implies. Their approach allows for an incredibly diverse amount of voices within the broad landscape of leftist thought to explicate their ideologies, ideas, and research.

The host does a great job of giving his guests room to talk about their area of expertise in a non-confrontational manner. Of course, such leeway can lead to times where the listener may wish for some push-back (for example, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bunch during a recent Marxist-Leninist episode). But debate is not the point. The point is to learn about the various strands that comprise political thought far to the left of mainstream liberalism. I transcribed the host’s overarching message from the last podcast, which perfectly sums up the podcast’s mission:

We’re pan-leftists, we’re non-sectarian precisely because at this moment in history there’s a material need for leftists of all stripes to put our petty differences aside for now and figure out how we’re going to fight these very real threats on the other side. Because the far right and the capitalists have no qualms about teaming up when push comes to shove. And if we’re arguing “you’re this type of leftist,” or “you’re a Trotskyist,” I’m a Leninist,” “you’re a democratic socialist” “I’m an anarchist,” we are going to weaken and divide and break ourselves down into smaller and smaller groups. We’re going to be impotent in the face of this onslaught of late capitalism.

Their approach mirrors my own, philosophically. I take bits and pieces here and there from countless political ideologies, philosophies, religions, etc. I tend to look askance at those who proclaim their adherence to one specific belief. But I get why people do so. I guess I’m just not wired that way.

While the podcast is great, I can’t say it gives me too much hope. Sectarianism in the far left is endemic and, to me, a bit silly. So much time is spent arguing about what comes AFTER capitalism and/or widespread nation-state collapse that the generally agreed-upon institutional enemies are largely left unscathed. Is socialism (insert any number of hyphenated varieties) a threat? Is anarchism (insert any number of hyphenated varieties) a threat? Perhaps Antifa is. But from the perspective of the state, no far left ideology is even close to the threat level of, say, radical Islamic terrorism.

The made-up term “alt-left” is perhaps too kind – at least the diarrhea menagerie that is the alt-right were able to partially coalesce and exert their influence in the service of electing a veritable garbage person as president of the most powerful country in the world. I’m not sure what the corollary would even be in terms of real world effects wrought by the “alt-left.”

Anyways, here are some episodes I thoroughly enjoyed:

  • Black Feminism and Queer Theory w/ Zoe Samudzi
  • Leftist Podcasts, New Atheism, and the October Revolution w/ Dan Arel
  • Anarcho-Primitivism: Civilization, Symbolic Culture, and Rewilding w/ Layla AbdelRahim
  • The Mexican Revolution and The Zapatistas w/ Alexander Avina
  • From Diplomat to Anarchist: The State, War, and the Fight for a Better World w/ Carne Ross
  • Gothic Marxism: The Horror Genre and the Monsters of Neoliberalism w/ TheLitCritGuy
  • Caliban and the Witch: An Interview with Silvia Federici

Should the far left ever unite, this podcast (available on iTunes and Stitcher) will probably play some kind of a role. We should probably hurry.

Dave Chappelle continues to make bad trans jokes

It’s becoming pretty clear that many comedians will cling to their bad trans jokes until the bitter end. The latest prominent example is, once again, Dave Chappelle. I’m not going to link to any of it (but will include an example, seen below). A google search will suffice, if interested. Or you could watch his Netflix special, hoping in vain to catch a glimmer of what made him so great.

An easy maxim to follow in comedy is to punch up and not down. Chappelle continues to punch down with regards to the trans community. The root of this appears to be that he thinks no one would ever give a fuck about trans people if it weren’t for white people, and it’s not something he’s willing to get past:

And I cannot shake this awful suspicion that the only reason everybody is talking about transgenders is because white men want to do it. That’s right, I just said that.

Right. Because white “transgenders” only started existing once Caitlyn Jenner “wanted” to do it. It gets worse from there, even going so far as to include “man-pussy” in a gut-busting punchline. So fucking edgy!

The topic obviously has an effect on him, or else he wouldn’t keep returning to it. But he has no interest in learning about contemporary/historical trans issues. He becomes aware of criticism and rejects it out of hand. There is no introspection, no empathy, no attempt at understanding. He gets to make his bad jokes with an impish smile, and his adoring audience erupts with laughter and applause. It’s all the validation, to the extent it’s even desired, he needs. Well, that and the millions of dollars Netflix keeps giving him.

Within the context of comedy that discusses social/political issues, the best of it is able to inch up to the shadowy line of good taste without crossing over into “problematic” territory. Such comedians that are able to effectively navigate this ever-changing realm are heralded as unafraid truth-tellers.

But crossing that line leads to people complaining on Twitter and thinkpieces. In response, the thin-skinned comedian, upset over critics daring to utilize their free speech, lashes out. Many of the comedian’s fans will circle the wagons which, at the end of the day, are the only class of consumers that matter. Their continued adoration serves as vindication.

To me, worse than the actual jokes was the laughter. It didn’t seem like many in the audience had an issue with his blatant transphobia. It’s hard not to think that such people agreed with the overall sentiment, and to some extent felt that Chappelle was saying things they wish they could.

I’m not publishing bad comments (except for the one I’m writing about in this post)

When I first started blogging, I considered establishing a commenting policy. I decided against it because I thought it was a bit presumptuous to assume anyone would want to comment on anything I wrote. Not that many do, but it’s enough for me to write about.

Awhile back I wrote about effective ways to conceptualize and deal with sexual violence. Almost a month later I received a bad comment, which I ignored and chose not to publish, until today – billoreillysloofah, here is your bad comment, with my response in bold.

[Quoted from my blog post] “It is well established in feminist legal critique that female complainants are discredited if they fail to conform to an archaic stereotype”

In this section you list one of these stereotypes as being “consistent”. Surely in any crime if the alleged victims’ story is inconsistent this is a red flag, no? [Not necessarily. Memory can be unreliable, fickle and impacted by trauma. It’s usually exculpatory enough for almost any alleged perpetrator to walk even if there is evidence pointing to guilt, which is a problem.] It’s hardly a “stereotype” in any case. [It is. You didn’t present evidence that it’s not a stereotype. The quote is from a peer-reviewed paper in an academic journal written by a law professor.] Imagine one is accused of a crime and the accuser changes their story to suit new facts every time they are presented with them. Is this to be ignored by the defence council? [Of course not. That’s not the argument]

I would wager it is also ‘established’ in these particular feminist legal critiques from whence you draw your quotation, that all men are guilty of something and that false rape allegations do not exist – so juries can safely disregard the possibility. [This is exactly what I think. Men are trash. Go die in a fire.]

The first paragraph isn’t terrible. The extent to which a victim is consistent is worthy of consideration. But the second paragraph is utter garbage. So, billoreillysloofah, don’t bother responding to this. I couldn’t care less what you have to say. Life is way too short to deal with the likes of you.

Part of my annoyance is due to the lag time. Within a few days of a post, I’d probably approve it and respond. During that time span other readers of the site may see it and add their two cents. But when too much time passes and an argumentative comment is left I’ll probably deny it, unless I think it’s interesting or worthy of a back-and-forth discussion that only myself and the commenter will see. The above comment is neither of those things.

Anyways, here are some other “rules:”

  • It should probably go without saying that I will not allow any bigoted comments.
  • If I reject your comment and it’s not bigoted, that means I think what you’ve written is wrong, illogical, not pertinent to what I’ve written, or any combination of the aforementioned. Perhaps there is also a taint of bigotry, such as using “feminist legal critiques” as a pejorative. Overall, it’s not something I want to see on my blog and I don’t wish to waste my time responding. You are totally free to think that I’m a , libtard, cuck, soy boy (my body is probably 3/4’s soy at this point) or any number of epithets used for fragile snowflakes such as myself. You can rest assured that I don’t have the mental faculties to go toe-to-toe with your impeccable logic. You’ll have triggered me, and my rejection of your comment will preserve the sanctity of my safe space. Or, deep down, maybe you’ll consider the possibility that you’re a piece of shit.

That’s really about it. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me – almost everyone except for this commenter has done so in a way I have no problem with.